New period of violence against the press begins in Guatemala, UN rapporteur says

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  • August 22, 2013

By Alejandro Martínez

A new period of violence against freedom of the press has begun in Guatemala, said the UN's special rapporteur for freedom of expression Frank La Rue in an opinion piece denouncing the recent wave of aggressions against journalists in the country.

In the text published on Thursday on Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre, La Rue criticized the administration of President Otto Pérez Molina for failing to stem crime in the country, siding with private interests, persecuting social leaders and not protecting journalists from judicial harassment, lawsuits, threats, physical aggressions and killings.

“Today violence has turned toward the sectors of the press that hold critical positions toward those in power, because of their social function of investigating and informing, but this year's level of aggressions had not been seen in a decade," said La Rue, who described the violence as a "step backwards for democracy and (the country's) peace process."

La Rue also condemned the comments made on Aug. 17 by Interior minister Mauricio López Bonilla, who said there were no indications that the killings of journalists committed this year had anything to do with their work and attributed them to personal reasons.

“It is regrettable that the Interior minister allows himself to speculate that (the killings) were ordinary crimes, as if this were acceptable. But what's worse, it shows the lack of interest in having a serious investigation," he said.

So far this year, four journalists have been killed in the regions of Guatemala, one was seriously injured in an attempt on his life, and another was attacked with gunshots at his home. The director of newspaper elPeriódico José Rubén Zamora also recently denounced two attempts to enter his home by police officers and an approach from the President offering him a bribe.

On Aug. 20, one day after the assassination of journalist Carlos Orellana, Pérez Molina said his government will create "a special team" to investigate the four killings, elPeriódico said. Shortly before that, he said his administration was considering the creation of a new agency that protects journalists, according to newspaper El País.

Several international organizations like UNESCO and the Inter-American Press Association have expressed their concern over the recent attacks. The Association of Journalists of Guatemala also called media outlets in the country to create “a common front” against violence, news agency EFE said.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.